What to Check Before You Hit Submit

What to Check Before You Hit Submit
August 11, 2017 2 Comments For Authors, Writing Advice Stacy Overby

We’ve talked about building worlds and creating in-depth characters. Even our secondary characters have backstories now. Our stories are written and edited. Now what? Before you submit, there is still an important step to seeing your work in print. It is the dreaded F word. Now, get your mind out of the gutter because that’s not what I meant. I am talking about formatting. But wait, you say, how do I figure out what I need to do for formatting. That’s what I’m here to talk about—submission guidelines.

Submission Guidelines

First, let’s consider submission guidelines in general. It is critical to understand submission guidelines because this can be the make or break point for your work. As an editor for Mighty Quill Books, that’s one of the first things I look at and, yes, I’ve rejected work for lack of following submission guidelines. I understand this may seem petty, but following guidelines tells the editors about how well you researched your plan to submit to them. It also reflects on your ability to follow direction, and helps editors focus more on content than trying to puzzle out a million different formats. Also, it can provide evidence about how easy you will be to work with as an author should your piece be selected for publication.

Short Story Format

Now, let’s review some specific submission guidelines to understand the ins and outs of what is being asked for. Here at Our Write Side, we have two slightly different sets of guidelines—one for the literary journal and one for the annual anthology. The basics for both sets of guidelines follow the standard short story format, often referred to as Shunn’s or William Shunn’s format. This includes one-inch margins, Times New Roman or Courier 12-point font, double spaced, and headers on each page—except for the first page. These requirements are set up this way because it makes it easier for the editors to make notes and to know how much room your submission will take in the publication. In the age of ebooks, it makes importing your file into the master file much easier to do.

File Extensions

Next, make sure you’ve double checked what file formats your preferred publisher accepts. While this may seem picky, it is critical because you want to make sure the editors can open your file. They will not take the time to ask you to resubmit it if you get this step wrong. For Our Write Side, we accept .doc, .docx, or .txt file extensions. Another common file extension accepted is the .rtf file. Be safe and double check in case they have something you may not expect as their preferred file extension.

Formatting the “Other” Stuff

All of this has been for your manuscript itself. Once you finish everything with your manuscript, go back to the submission guidelines again for other submission requirements. This is a place where the guidelines here differ. For our literary journal, the expectation is that your email subject line read Inquiry/Your Name/Name of Piece. In the body of the email you’re asked to put in your name, bio, word count, and information about the piece. However, for the annual anthology submission, the email subject should read Inquiry/ (Insert the name of the current anthology)/Story Title. In the body of the email, you’re asked to write a synopsis and word count. Why the difference? Because with the anthology, the word count is generally much higher than in the lit journal. This means to read every submission in its entirety would take a significant amount of time. The synopsis requirement lets editors make sure your story is close to what they are looking for without spending as much time on it. The shorter pieces are not as time consuming to read through, which is why the lit journal does not require a synopsis.

Double Check

Don’t think you’re done with submission guidelines at this point. There are also guidelines out there for novel synopses, back blurbs, cover letters, and the like. It is getting more common in the submission email, publishers ask authors to add a comment to acknowledge you’ve read the submission guidelines and you’re not spamming every publisher out there with your story. When you think you’ve gotten everything formatted according to the guidelines, do one more thing. Go back and double check that checklist. I hate having to reject an author’s story because the guidelines were not followed.

Hopefully this has helped you understand how to think about and understand submission guidelines. They can be the make or break point for a piece being published or rejected. What other questions do you have about submission guidelines? Hit me up here or on my blog—where you can also find my social media links—and ask them. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out for you.

Stacy Overby Stacy Overby is a columnist and graphic designer at www.ourwriteside.com. Her short stories and poems have been featured in multiple anthologies, online, and in lit journals. Scath Oran is her first solo poetry collection, and her debut full length novel, Tattoos: A Black Ops Novel is coming out soon. She is the program director for an adolescent dual diagnosis treatment program by day and an author by night. Her day job provides inspiration for many of her stories. When not at work or writing, she and her husband are playing with their son, hiking, camping, or involved in other outdoor activities – if it is not too cold. She, along with her social media contacts, can be found at www.thisisnothitchhikersguide.com.
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  1. 2 Comments

    Heidi Angell

    Submission guidelines are like early contracts! I remember hearing a story that Van Halen had in their performance contracts that they were to have a bowl of M & Ms on their prep table, with all the brown M & Ms removed. They said it wasn’t because they were divas but simply to see if the venue actually read the contracts in their entirety.

    I know, for me, when I get submissions from authors for guest posts on my website, and they are writing about the business of writing, I just toss them. I clearly state in my description that more than 80% of my audience are readers only. Readers don’t want tips on marketing. They don’t care. Most groups don’t have submission guidelines to be difficult. (They aren’t Van Halen.) They do it to help you provide their audience with the best experience so that you are more likely to get something out of it as well.

    When an author does an interview and doesn’t send me their bio and links, I don’t include it. Why? Because I don’t have time to track all that information down for every submission. And if it isn’t there, my readers aren’t going to end up following you. You lose out, not me. Not my audience. You.

    Follow submission guidelines!

    1. 2 Comments


      Exactly. Following submission guidelines is a win-win for everyone. And if you’re not certain, go ahead and ask! That will leave a much better impression than taking a guess and getting it wrong.


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